All About the Advanced Stage of Lung Cancer

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

Stage 4 lung cancer is the most advanced form of the disease. Around 40 percent of those with lung cancer are not diagnosed until this stage. In stage 4, the cancer has spread to both lungs, to the fluid in the area around the lungs, and has also spread to other parts of the body. Here are more details about what you should know about this stage of lung cancer.

Woman having coughing bout.

Symptoms to know about stage 4 lung cancer

Advanced stage lung cancer has symptoms similar to all forms and stages of lung cancer, according to the American Cancer Society, such as:

  • A cough that doesn’t go away
  • Coughing up blood
  • Chest pain that worsens with deep breathing, coughing, or laughing
  • Hoarseness
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
Close-up of jaundice eye.

Secondary symptoms possible with advanced lung cancer

You might develop secondary infections, such as bronchitis and pneumonia, that linger, despite treatment. You could also develop symptoms based on where the cancer has spread, according to the American Cancer Society.For example:

  • Bone pain if the cancer has spread to the bones
  • Headache, weakness, numbness, dizziness, and balance issues if cancer spread to brain
  • Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and eyes if cancer spread to liver
  • Lumps near the surface of the body if cancer spreads to skin
Watch on a calendar.

What are survival rates?

Life expectancy, or survival rates, are an estimate on how long someone will live after a cancer diagnosis. They are typically listed as five-year or 10-year survival rates and indicate the number of people expected to live to the end of that period of time.

Lung cancer patient looking out window.

What is the prognosis for someone living with stage 4 lung cancer?

The statistics are based on people who were treated at least five years ago, according to the American Cancer Society. This is important because in a five-year span, medical research can advance greatly. The prognosis for those diagnosed five years ago may be lower than the prognosis if you are diagnosed today because of medical research and advances. The five-year survival rate for advanced lung cancer is less than 10 percent.

Growing cancer cell tumor, medical illustration.

The type and location of your cancer can impact your life expectancy

The term stage 4 is used to describe cancers that have spread only to one distant location and those that have spread extensively throughout the body. The life expectancy for someone whose cancer has spread to one location is often different than the life expectancy of someone whose cancer has spread to many organs and areas of the body.

Patient receiving radiation therapy for cancer.

Other factors that impact your prognosis

  • Your age: Young people with lung cancer may live longer than those who are older, according to a study completed in 2013.
  • Your sex: Women have a longer life expectancy than men with lung cancer according to a study completed in 2011.
  • Your general health: Those in good overall health generally have a longer life expectancy than those in poor health. Other health conditions and treatments may interfere with your cancer treatment and ability to tolerate cancer treatments.
  • Your response: How well you tolerate and respond to treatments.
Cancer patient talking with sister.

(Potential) Good news: The survival rate isn’t a sure thing

While the overall survival rate is five years for those with stage 4 lung cancer, that doesn’t mean you will not live beyond five years. You and your doctor will need to factor the different situations to give you your prognosis.

Medical analysis concept: cancer treatment.

Treatment options

Treatment options depend on where cancer has spread, the number of tumors, and your overall health. Treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, and radiation may help you live longer and feel better but they won’t cure the cancer. Chemotherapy is often the recommended course of treatment. Radiation and immunotherapy may be suggested as a secondary approach.

Doctor talks with young patient about lung cancer treatment options.

How your overall health impacts treatment choices

The treatment your doctor recommends will depend on your overall health. For example, if you are not in good health, you may only receive one drug in chemotherapy rather than two. You may need to forego chemotherapy and use radiation therapy instead.

Patient and doctor talking.

The goal of treatment

The goal of treatment may not be curative, as it is with other types or stages of cancer, according to Barbara Campling, M.D. Treatment may be targeted at reducing symptoms and increasing your quality of life; for example, photodynamic therapy or laser therapy can reduce symptoms caused by lung tumors. Pain medications can help you remain pain free and comfortable. Talk with your doctor about which treatments will help you maintain a good quality of life.

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.